Spatial Design- All space is there to be used

by Sallamah Chimera

Primarily where will the piece be performed and the number of people dancing. Example a restaurant, will be a confined space around tables; a theater will be larger and include backstage and wings. Out-of-doors will mean exposure to the entire choreographic process. Also, I have to consider whether there will be props and the amount of space they require per dancer. Canes, swords, veils and fire create their own challenges—like ceiling fans, overhead lighting, curtains, low ceilings close proximity to the audience, etc. Creating a tableau would be a different challenge.

2. How have you used staging to contribute to your work, (i.e. for visual design, to communicate meaning, to create mood, to evoke social conventions, etc)?

We have dances that are designed specifically for theater stages where we have access to the wings and backstage. This is a way we can change the number of dancers on stage, introduce a prop, and give variety to the piece which is fairly uncommon in belly dancing.

3. In what ways do you play with a phrase to achieve the desired spacing and staging?

My music determines this. If it is strictly a traditional rhythm, then there are movements specifically created to go with it. If it is a departure or westernized piece of music, I have more freedom to create and have to modify traditional dance movements and how I use my space and staging. Traditional music has set rhythms that dictate what movement is used, how fast or slow it will be and even the duration. This sets limits on what you can do sometimes. It may limit your ability to travel or cover large areas of the stage.

4. What challenges have you encountered when dealing with staging? What strategies, advice, or lines of thought have helped you overcome these challenges?

One time I had more dancers than stage area. We were performing a veil dance that required two dancers to partner with 3 yard veils spread out between them as they turned. We had room for two on stage and 4 on the floor in front of the stage. It was rather spectacular with several heights and layers of veils in the air. Most of the time we are faced with very small spaces and I have created many of my dances to handle this and yet allow for group dances. Some of my dances can be performed small or large.

5. Have entrances and exits served any greater function in your work than getting dancers in and out of the performance space? If yes, what have been their functions?

Some of our dances entrances and exits set the mood or tone of the piece. It can be interesting for the music to begin and the stage is empty then gradually the dancers emerge. One of our veil dances has the dancers exiting the stage into the wings with their veils floating behind them dramatically.

6. What challenges have you encountered when dealing with entrances and exits? What helped you take on these challenges?

Our biggest challenge exiting and entering comes with outside performances where we are exposed to the audience. In this case you have to maintain your character as you exit and the group has to remain in character the entire time they are in the presence of the audience. It is easier with a real stage and curtains. My dancers have to participate in all the numbers even when they aren’t dancing by clapping, playing the dumbek or their finger cymbals. They have to be animated and can’t wander off to talk.

7. How have your thoughts and approaches to space and spatial design evolved throughout your choreographic career?

I think I am more comfortable and confident in my abilities to handle tricky staging including a T-shaped stage and theater in the round. I think experience has contributed to the evolution of my space and spatial design.

8. If you had a philosophy about the role of space in your practice and in your work, what would it be?

Use it! I see some dances weighing down one side of the stage instead of spreading the dance around the stage so the dance looks balanced. If the motive is to present some form of emotional instability, an unbalanced stage like filming a scene from a weird angle, will create this mood. However, it can also exclude the members in the audience who are not on the side where all the dancing is taking place. I also like to have all my dancers exposed—I don’t want anyone hiding behind another dancer. Also, it isn’t just the floor that needs to be utilized but the area above the dancer’s heads and behind the dancers.